Connecticut’s Interval House – Safety & Innovation – Priority One

Robin Kraemer, Community Relations Coordinator & Jennifer Lopez, Advocacy Program Director for Interval House have a true sense of the needs of battered women and children in the Greater Hartford community.  They have their priorities straight…..  It’s safety first, coupled with innovation and a lot of “out of the box thinking” and collaboration.

Listen to Shattered Lives interview with Robin Kraemer and Jennifer Lopez

Background: Breaking the Cycle of Family and Intimate Partner Abuse:

For nearly 35 years, since 1978, IH has served 165,000 women and children with 50% of their 24 hour hotline calls looking for information and assistance in devising a safety plan or obtaining community resources and support.  These are the cases that, while important, may not rise to the level of emergency shelter or court or legal advocacy during the initial call….

Treating intimate partner violence as a “continuum of care” and providing options is what makes this collaborative program successful!

As a Family Violence Advocate, Jennifer Lopez is a seasoned professional with 23 years experience using a systemic and individual approach to helping women in crisis.  She is a staple in the Hartford and Manchester courts, along with assistance from the Hartford (new Domestic Violence Unit) and the Manchester Police Departments.  In that advocacy role, there are certain truths that all victims of intimate partner violence share.  As Jennifer stated, when women are battered, they no longer have a sense of self nor do they feel safe.  They often don’t feel comfortable calling the police. The police may arrest them…  The batterer knows the victim’s every move, the batterer doesn’t take responsibility, and the batterer blames the victim.

Advocates in Connecticut are employed by the domestic violence organizations.  They prepare and assist in meeting victims’  needs by navigating their course, providing resources, a safety plan, protective orders, acquaint them with the roles of all court personnel during their  appearances and  assist  police and court personnel in  safeguarding them, as  the risk of retaliation is high when the batterer is also in their presence. Police in Connecticut hold abusers accountable.

For a historical perspective regarding Connecticut’s “domestic violence roadmap,” one must look to the Tracey Thurman case.  Please read the following blog authored by this writer… Tracey Thurman and Landmark Legislation

As intimate partner offenders often control and monitor their partner’s every move, Interval House staff provides options… They feel strongly that they don’t want to tell them what to do… as they already are besieged with that behavior. They tailor a safety plan to each individual situation with “out of the box” thinking, which may include protective orders, a change of identity, moving the victim out of state etc.

When the question was posed as to how victims are dealt with when the abuser is a member of law enforcement…. There are no hard and fast answers….  Ms. Lopez stated that it was easier to devise a safety plan 20 or 30 years ago, when technology such as cell phones, computers and other electronic devices were not present.  To date, if the batterer is a member of law enforcement, they follow guidelines but also get creative in their approach to circumvent the “Blue Wall”.  They may enlist the help of another supervisor or a different police department entirely.  “When someone of power is the abuser… it’s a lot harder to overcome and maintain safety.”    A discussion of Susan Murphy Milano’s innovative preventative measures, “document the abuse” as a possible option ensued.  IH staff, as well as many other entities across the country can benefit. (   Ms. Lopez stated that Interval House staff encourages women to document all threatening, isolating and abusive situations.  However, if women have no documentation and are in acute crisis, often they are not seen as credible by police or the courts…

Robin Kraemer spoke of other programs such as their support group network .IH provides support groups both English and Spanish speaking and have child advocates and activity groups for children. Day care and food is available. Discussions are informal. No “homework assignments” or other such activities are given or mandated. At times, the discussion is positive…or can be very negative.

***The focus is on breaking the cycle.  Approximately 30% of those children who suffer abuse become abusers themselves. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, (2006,)Children who experience child abuse & neglect are 59% more likely to be arrested as a juvenile, 28% more likely to be arrested as an adult, and 30% more likely to commit violent crime.  Interval house is unique in that they work with children who very young up to 18-19 years old, and can provide more comprehensive safety plans for older children.  For children much younger, strategies are taught such as, learning how to call 911 and locating a safe refuge within the household when violence begins.

Regarding the proposed use of restraining orders by teens against abusive parents, Ms. Lopez is in favor of such orders being proposed in Connecticut.  She discussed the realm of teen dating and teen violence. Teens often do not recognize potentially abusive situations as they lack frequently lack appropriate role models providing healthy relationships. Examples given of teen abuse included 24/7 monitoring of all calls and activities, isolating the teen from friends, inability to recognize the abuser’s behavior as “control and jealousy” versus “their interpretation of love.” The audience was cautioned that restraining orders are not always the panacea people think…. Rather, keeping safe may best be managed by employing a good safety plan and communication with teachers, other school officials and the police.

Safety first is the operative term when speaking about the aftermath of intimate partner violence. Jennifer Lopez related that the most common need seen in her many years of experience is that victims do not have a sense of safety along with lack of knowledge how to access support and resources.   Creating a sense of safety takes a long time and is difficult work.  They have to be taught that once a safety plan and resources are in place, it is okay to walk out the door; It’s okay to choose that dress to wear today, It’s okay to call a friend on the phone,   Intimate partner violence breeds a loss of  independent decision making, and free will. Within this scenario, children who accompany their mothers, often act out aggressively when they don’t feel safe and do not know whom to trust.

Robin followed up with information regarding dealing with the economic downturn and very sluggish economy in Connecticut and the impact on the provision of services. Yes, services are negatively effected, However, they all work together to keep the most important aspects of their operation going.  In addition, they have an active development department for fundraising efforts. If anyone is interested in offering donations they can do so through their website at:                                    or call 860-246-9149, ext. 338.

Robin also spoke to the question posed regarding the length of stay within their shelter program.  Optimally, the average is 60 days… However, depending upon individual need, the length of stay can be altered. It is indeed rewarding to hear that residents remark that … “Last night is the first night I slept through the night in a long time.” Confidentiality and safety with respect to the location of shelters and the physical security is paramount.  All counselors are trained and confidential employees who safeguard privileged communication.  Shelters are equipped with security systems and tied to police response.

A unique program co-founded by former Connecticut Attorney General (now Senator) Richard Blumenthal is called, “Men Make a Difference, Men Against Domestic Violence” initiated in 2009.   The volunteer program is prevention oriented and is run by a group of community leaders who espouse the following philosophy within the communities of Connecticut:

Listen – without judgment;

Learn – what to do following the warning signs;

Lend a Hand – (Examples) Babysit, provide a safe place to keep documents and possessions;

Lead- Speak out and educate citizens about DV/Intimate Partner Violence

If you need Assistance-State-wide in Connecticut call 860-527-0550 or 1-888-774-2900.   Or, call Info-Line at 211 for more local programs.
“The first step toward success is taken when you refuse to be a captive of the environment in which you first find yourself.” Author, Mark Caine



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